2008 Power List: 31. The Space Invaders

Zhai Zhigang, Jing Haipeng, Liu Boming, Astronauts (Ages: all 42)

Forget about those baby-faced gymnasts at the Olympics, or Beijing's ability to send our economy into instant free fall by calling in the billions we owe. The real proof of China's exploding superpower status is these three taikonauts. With the completion of their three-day mission aboard the Shenzou VII—including Zhai Zhigang's 13-minute space walk—the former fighter pilots reignited the space race. Their heroics, broadcast live on state TV a month after the games ended, unleashed a second wave of national pride, punctuating a year fraught with brutal cold spells, catastrophic earthquakes, political turmoil, and tainted milk with celebration in the streets. The full scale of their accomplishment remains a state secret, but what we do know is eye-opening: The Chinese have made three journeys into outer space since 2003. They plan to launch a space lab by 2011 and a fully operational space station by 2020. And they don't intend to rest until they've planted a big red flag on the moon. NASA, meanwhile, is mothballing its shuttles in anticipation of a new line of spacecrafts not scheduled for launch until 2015. That gulp you just heard? It's coming from the Pentagon. Seems all that scientific inquiry has led China to missiles that can knock a satellite from the sky.


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